Keep Your Young Child Happy and Occupied on Thanksgiving

By Gena Kittner

For many, Thanksgiving is spent rushing across town, gulping down multiple turkey dinners, and indulging in various varieties of pie.

Not at our house. My husband, daughter, and I stay pleasantly house-bound at Thanksgiving in order to have more time to travel at Christmas.

We’ve done it this way for more than a decade and love it.

While staying close to home has its benefits (stuffing the turkey in your PJs, refilling your wine glass knowing you have no where to go), an entire day spent turkey basting and football watching isn’t overly appealing to my 3-year-old.

Activities to Keep Your Toddler or Preschooler Busy on Thanksgiving Day

So, if anyone finds themselves in the same Thanksgiving boat, here are some activities we plan to try this year to keep the kiddo happy and the adults more or less relaxed:

Enlist child labor
My husband is the primary chef of our Thanksgiving feast. It’s everyone else’s job to stay out of the way (and, eventually, do dishes). But there are a few areas where Ellie can help and stay momentarily busy. Last year she poured broth into the stuffing mix. This year she might move up to bread ripping and potato mashing.

Daddy keeps an eye on our little Thanksgiving chef.

Plan a craft
It’s hard to go wrong with the handprint turkey. Kids trace their hands on brown construction paper and color the fingers for feathers. Last year we made one for each guest and used them as table setting name tags. This year we might make a turkey using a stuffed brown paper lunch sacks or start a construction paper Christmas garland. The craft ideas are endless. Check out Pinterest for inspiration.

Get some fresh air
I know it’s easy for me to suggest this living in balmy Tucson, Ariz., but taking a quick walk, stroller ride or playing a game of tag or hide and seek is a nice way to break up the day and maybe prime the kids for a nap (always my goal).

Put in some FaceTime
Even if we can’t be with the people we love doesn’t mean we can’t say hi. Ellie loves showing her cousins all her toys via FaceTime or Skype and saying hi to Grandma’s puppies. Doing this on Thanksgiving has the extra benefit of saying hello to some extended family who might also be around.

Write or draw a menu
If your child is old enough, have him or her write out everything in your family’s Thanksgiving dinner. If your kiddo can’t yet write, have them draw pictures of turkeys, potatoes and cranberries. After dinner they can put a star by what they liked best (umm pie?). Write a date on the back and keep it from year-to-year.

Try something new
Even though Christmas is just around the corner, surprise your child or children with a new toy or game, such as a puzzle everyone can work on or a toy with some assembly required. Just make sure it’s easy enough for adults to do while simultaneously cheering on their team.


Gena is a Midwest transplant living in TucsoGena Kittnern, Arizona with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. When not killing scorpions, Gena writes about food and family. Follow her on Twitter @genakittner, and check out her previous guest posts on Mommy Sanest.

A Trip to the Butterfly Festival at Garden Patch Farms

Taking a young toddler to a new place for a larger event, even a ‘kids’ event, is always a bit of a crap shoot — and we didn’t know what to expect at the Butterfly Festival at Garden Patch Farms. And, you never know how an almost 2-year-old is going to react. Will there be age-appropriate activities? Will she be in a good mood? Will I be able to let her out of the stroller to roam around without worrying that she’s going to run into a street? Does the time of the event work relatively well with her nap schedule?

Summer fun in the western suburbs includes a trip to Garden Patch Farms, a you-pick berry farm. We went for their annual Butterfly Festival.

Yet, as Emme is now a legit toddler, I’ve done a lot of research about fun summer activities, and the Butterfly Festival at Garden Patch Farms caught my attention. So this weekend, Emme and I, along with my sister, brother-in-law, and their 20-month-old son, ventured to Garden Patch Farms in Homer Glen, Illinois, a you-pick orchard and berry farm, for their 2nd annual Butterfly Festival.

The event kicked off with the release of hundreds of butterflies. While I was expecting swarms of butterflies, it didn’t quite happen that way. The butterflies are slow to start, and many don’t take flight or go too far initially. That said, Emme couldn’t have been more excited to get up close and personal with a Monarch that landed near our feet.

Garden Patch Farms Butterfly Festival

When most of the butterflies finally flew away, we explored the rest of Garden Patch Farms. What I liked best about the Butterfly Festival was that it was very contained. There was enough to see and do without feeling overwhelmed, the crowd was manageable, and the space big enough that we felt comfortable letting Emme and her cousin roam around.

Emme’s favorite part of the day was the chickens. She doesn’t regularly get into something for long periods of time, but I had convince her to move on from the chicken coup.

Garden Patch Farms Butterfly Festival

We ended our day at Garden Patch Farms in the strawberry fields. While the crop wasn’t quite ripe enough, it was still fun to watch Emme and her her cousin pick strawberries and throw straw at each other.

The Butterfly Festival was free and totally worth the 35-minute drive from the near western suburbs of Chicago — close enough to be no big deal, but far enough to feel like we were in a totally new and different setting. We loved our visit to Garden Patch Farms and can’t wait for next year’s festival.